Another One Bites the Dust

By Jessica M. Vaughan on October 18, 2012

Criminal aliens, illegal drunk drivers, identity thieves, and gang members are breathing a sigh of relief in Prince William County, Va., as they now have much less chance of being disturbed or uprooted by ICE or local police, thanks to the latest move by the White House to dismantle the successful 287(g) enforcement program.

Last week, county officials were informed by ICE that their program was next on the chopping block, following cancellations in Arizona and North Carolina. Despite having identified about 5,000 removable aliens who had been arrested for other offenses and processing a large share of them for removal at little cost to ICE; enabling ICE agents in Virginia to give better service to other parts of the state; and despite the absence of any findings of abuse or mismanagement, the White House has decided that the program must go.

This time, ICE Director John Morton didn't even bother waiting for a bogus Department of Justice "investigation" to allege civil rights abuses, as he did in Arizona and North Carolina. According to senior ICE managers, Morton has acknowledged privately that he doesn't think the DOJ investigations will find anything to justify cancelling the agreements on the grounds that civil rights have been violated. So he just pulls the plug because that's what he's been told to do.

There is no legitimate reason to cancel the Prince William County program. The official ICE line is that they are targeting only "unproductive" programs, and that the Secure Communities program does the same job more effectively and more cheaply. No one believes that, especially not in Virginia.

Unproductive? Please. The Prince William County program is in the top 25 percent of all 287(g) programs nationwide, with only 13 others producing more arrests — and all of those are in major metropolitan areas like Houston, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Atlanta, and Charlotte. Residents have been outraged at some horrific crimes committed by illegal aliens, often repeat offenders, including murders, gang assaults, and fatal accidents, including one that killed a Catholic nun and injured two others in 2010. Removing these criminals makes everyone safer.

Cheaper? No way. Prince William County sent 22 of its police and corrections officers to 287(g) training. They interview inmates and offenders after arrest. They query databases to determine the aliens' status. They complete the volumes of paperwork necessary to charge and deport those criminals who can be removed. They serve as a resource for all of the other county officers who encounter non-citizens on a routine basis, helping them deal with them appropriately. All this work is paid for by Prince William County taxpayers, who appreciate the public safety benefits of this investment. They know that ICE is not going to be able to pick up the slack with additional staff; instead, the ICE field office will tell the county officers to release most of the illegal aliens who get arrested.

Secure Communities, which screens the fingerprints of everyone arrested against DHS databases, is a good program, but is not more effective. For one thing, Secure Communities can only identify those criminal aliens who already have a record with DHS. Sheriffs who run 287(g) programs tell me that Secure Communities misses about half of the criminal aliens who get arrested.

Anti-enforcement advocates have tried, and failed, to convince people that the 287(g) program was discriminatory, created a hostile environment for all immigrants, and made the county less safe because even legal immigrants became fearful of police. The county commissioned independent researchers from the University of Virginia and the Police Executive Research Forum (a Ford Foundation group) to complete what is the most exhaustive study ever done on any local immigration enforcement program. This study found that the program accomplished its objectives — the illegal alien population got smaller and more illegal alien criminals were removed from the county, without lasting adverse effects on police relationships with immigrant communities.

Earlier this year, the U.S. House tried to prevent the White House from cutting these programs by earmarking funding in the DHS appropriations bill. But since the Senate let these bills die, the Obama administration gets its way on this and many other issues. Make no mistake, these enforcement programs work — that's why Obama is getting rid of them. Who will be next?